Here we may observe,
I. The persons to whom this exhortation is given—to the presbyters, pastors, and spiritual guides of the church, elders by office, rather than by age, ministers of those churches to whom he wrote this epistle.
II. The person who gives this exhortation—the apostle Peter: I exhort; and, to give force to this exhortation, he tells them he was their brother-presbyter or fellow-elder, and so puts nothing upon them but what he was ready to perform himself. He was also a witness of the sufferings of Christ, being with him in the garden, attending him to the palace of the high-priest, and very likely being a spectator of his suffering upon the cross, at a distance among the crowd, Acts 3:15. He adds that he was also a partaker of the glory that was in some degree revealed at the transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-3), and shall be completely enjoyed at the second coming of Jesus Christ. Learn, 1. Those whose office it is to teach others ought carefully to study their own duty, as well as teach the people theirs. 2. How different the spirit and behaviour of Peter were from that of his pretended successors! He does not command and domineer, but exhort. He does not claim sovereignty over all pastors and churches, nor style himself prince of the apostles, vicar of Christ, or head of the church, but values himself upon being an elder. All the apostles were elders, though every elder was not an apostle. 3. It was the peculiar honour of Peter, and a few more, to be the witnesses of Christ’s sufferings; but it is the privilege of all true Christians to be partakers of the glory that shall be revealed.
III. The pastor’s duty described, and the manner in which that duty ought to be performed. The pastoral duty is three-fold:—1. To feed the flock, by preaching to them the sincere word of God, and ruling them according to such directions and discipline as the word of God prescribes, both which are implied in this expression, Feed the flock. 2. The pastors of the church must take the oversight thereof. The elders are exhorted to do the office of bishops (as the word signifies), by personal care and vigilance over all the flock committed to their charge. 3. They must be examples to the flock, and practise the holiness, self-denial, mortification, and all other Christian duties, which they preach and recommend to their people. These duties must be performed, not by constraint, not because you must do them, not from compulsion of the civil power, or the constraint of fear or shame, but from a willing mind that takes pleasure in the work: not for filthy lucre, or any emoluments and profits attending the place where you reside, or any perquisite belonging to the office, but of a ready mind, regarding the flock more than the fleece, sincerely and cheerfully endeavouring to serve the church of God; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, tyrannizing over them by compulsion and coercive force, or imposing unscriptural and human inventions upon them instead of necessary duty, Matt. 20:25, 26; 2 Cor. 1:24. Learn, (1.) The eminent dignity of the church of God, and all the true members of it. These poor, dispersed, suffering Christians were the flock of God. The rest of the world is a brutal herd. These are an orderly flock, redeemed to God by the great Shepherd, living in holy love and communion one with another, according to the will of God. They are also dignified with the title of God’s heritage or clergy, his peculiar lot, chosen out of the common multitude for his own people, to enjoy his special favour and to do him special service. The word is never restricted in the New Testament to the ministers of religion. (2.) The pastors of the church ought to consider their people as the flock of God, as God’s heritage, and treat them accordingly. They are not theirs, to be lorded over at pleasure; but they are God’s people, and should be treated with love, meekness, and tenderness, for the sake of him to whom they belong. (3.) Those ministers who are either driven to the work by necessity or drawn to it by filthy lucre can never perform their duty as they ought, because they do not do it willingly, and with a ready mind. (4.) The best way a minister can take to engage the respect of a people is to discharge his own duty among them in the best manner that he can, and to be a constant example to them of all that is good.
IV. In opposition to that filthy lucre which many propose to themselves as their principal motive in undertaking and discharging the pastoral office, the apostle sets before them the crown of glory designed by the great shepherd, Jesus Christ, for all his faithful ministers. Learn, 1. Jesus Christ is the chief shepherd of the whole flock and heritage of God. He bought them, and rules them; he defends and saves them for ever. He is also the chief shepherd over all inferior shepherds; they derive their authority from him, act in his name, and are accountable to him at last. 2. This chief shepherd will appear, to judge all ministers and under-shepherds, to call them to account, whether they have faithfully discharged their duty both publicly and privately according to the foregoing directions. 3. Those that are found to have done their duty shall have what is infinitely better than temporal gain; they shall receive from the grand shepherd a high degree of everlasting glory, a crown of glory that fadeth not away.